For years and years, former Mets player and minor league manager Wally Backman was the media’s dream candidate to be the Mets big league manager. At least a certain segment of the media. Primarily New York ballwriters who covered the Mets back in the 80s, had good relations with him and realized that he was always good for a pithy quote or colorful story.
Actually, it was more than just thinking he’d be a good candidate. There was a sense that he was somehow entitled to be the Mets manager. When the Mets job was open or a Mets manager was rumored to be on the hot seat the “well, now it’s Backman’s turn” chorus began. When others got the job instead of him Backman became the subject of sympathetic “Backman thinks he was unfairly passed over” stories, the sort of which you rarely if ever see about the countless other passed over managerial candidates. If you Google “Backman Mets manager” you will find a ton of such articles and columns.
You’d think by now that that whole narrative had run its course, but you’d be wrong. Today Bob Klapisch — who has written columns stumping for Backman many, many, many, times in the past — has another one. This time in the New York Times, where Kalpisch catches up with his old friend who now manages the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. It’s a profile of where Backman is now, but make no mistake, it is also a piece stumping for Backman to get another shot. Basically all stories about Backman are stump pieces in the service of Backman getting another shot.
Which is hard to understand outside of the context of the writer’s personal relationship with Backman because, on the merits, there’ nothing that makes Backman any better of a candidate for a big league job than dozens or maybe scores of former players and minor league managers like him. Indeed, given that he was given a major league managerial job once, in 2004 with the Diamondbacks, and was fired four days later when it was revealed that he had misled the Dbacks over his sordid legal and financial past, which included multiple arrests, one of which was for domestic violence, it’s understandable if he was never even considered for such a job again. Heck, it’d be understandable if he never even got minor league jobs after that.
But he did get other chances. Backman forged on, working in the indy leagues and then getting a chance with the Mets in whose minor league system he served for many years, often doing a pretty good job. The problem, though, was that he didn’t get along with the Mets front office and was seen, fairly or unfairly, we can’t say, as not being on the same page as them. Which, in this day and age is probably the top job requirement of a big league manager. Guys with way longer and more distinguished resumes than Backman — Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson come to mind — have lost jobs due to a failure to communicate well with the front office or, at the very least, due to the perception that they didn’t.
None of which is a knock on Backman personally. He, in a lot of ways, is the platonic ideal of a fire-breathing old school manager, the sort of which used to populate the majority of big league dugouts. And it’s admirable that Backman has constantly hustled and worked, with two separate stints in the indy leagues, years in the minors and even some time in the Mexican League. He’s not one of those guys sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and thinking that anything less than a cushy job is beneath him. That he’s kept at it and worked hard is to his credit.
But it doesn’t entitle him to be a big league manager. It doesn’t, as the scores of stories like this one portray things, make his failure to get one of those jobs some mystery or conspiracy against him. Hardly anyone gets to manage a big league team, including guys who spend 20 or 30 years in the minors. Backman is no different than any of them on the merits.
Those guys, however, don’t have a defacto press office working P.R. for them like Backman does, and that press office’s dedication to getting Backman hired someplace will always baffle me.